A vote to legalize illegal aliens who have defied court deportation orders was the first sign the Senate’s contentious immigration bill would survive a slew of “deal killer” votes Wednesday and meet the Thursday cloture deadline promised by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.).
This decision came via an amendment vote to the White-House backed immigration bill that seeks to provide legal status to the approximately 12 to 20 million illegal aliens currently living in the United States.
The bellwether amendment, sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.), sought to deny felons legal status, including those who defied a deportation order from a U.S. judge, those who used fraudulent documents to obtain work and sex offenders.
Democrats said Cornyn’s amendment would gut the bill because up to half the illegal immigration population likely had run-ins with Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials, or misused identification documents.
Cornyn’s measure was defeated 51 to 46.
Instead, Democrats pushed for a substitute amendment sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D.-Mass.) that would block some criminals, like terrorist supporters, from obtaining a z visa, but not those who had defied deportation orders or had used fraudulent documents to work in the United States. Kennedy’s amendment passed 66-32.
Cornyn said Kennedy’s version would still allow sex offenders and drunk drivers to obtain legal status.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Kennedy said the Cornyn amendment would classify “an array of common, garden-variety immigration offenses as crimes that would make them ineligible for the program."
Kennedy said, "Cornyn says that if you have used false identification, you may be found inadmissible and may be deported. But in our broken system, the people that have wanted to work face the reality of where we are today.”
Ten Republicans crossed party lines to vote against Cornyn’s amendment, including presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.).
After his amendment was defeated, Cornyn told reporters, “What people are most concerned about is that this bill, no matter what it looks like on the outside will be hollow in the inside and it will not be enforced and we will only see a repetition of what happened in 1986.”
This vote was the one of many votes that ran over into early Thursday morning and tested the Senate’s will to finally pass an immigration reform bill from their chamber.